Why Yoga? A Basic Guide to the Benefits of Yoga

By Kelsey Frazier

In today’s day-in-age it seems as if yoga is everywhere and #EveryoneIsDoingIt. According to a study performed by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, a whopping 36.7 million people are practicing yoga in 2016 as compared to 20.4 million people in 2012. Of those 36.7 million, 72% of practicioners are women and 28% are men. It’s predicted that a total of 80 million people will at least try yoga in 2016. Needless to say: that’s a lot of people. Two conclusions can be drawn from this data: either they all drank from the same batch of CoolAid (unlikely) or there must be something to this whole Yoga thing. We’re going with the latter.

There is a plethora of scientific data regarding the benefits of yoga — from improved flexibility to lower blood pressure, increased lymphatic and adrenal health, a greater ability to focus, and an overall boost in general happiness. Yoga also provides great cross-training benefits for athletes and those of us who work out on a regular basis.  The best thing about Yoga is that its benefits do not discriminate. Whether you’re an athlete, simply looking to get a good stretch, or someone suffering from chronic pain or illness, yoga is applicable and accessible to everyone. How does it work? Let’s take a look…

1. Cultivates Longevity in the Body

In many ways, yoga is similar to drinking from the fountain of youth. Stepping on the mat and moving your body in a conscious way 2-3 times a week keeps joints lubricated and prevents cartilage breakdown, building a strong foundation for staying agile into your later years. Increased blood flow during yoga practice keeps your heart strong and helps to rinse toxins from the bloodstream, lowering your risk of diseases like heart attack and cancer. Yoga also lowers cortisol and adrenaline levels, encourages weight loss, and improves sensitivity to the effects of insulin, all which decreases your risk of heart attack and organ failure. In other words: making a regular yoga practice a part of your life is a simple method of maintaining your body in it’s highest functioning state. If that doesn’t make you want to hop on a mat, I don’t know what will.

2. Provides Stress Relief

Think back to 10th grade biology. Remember learning about the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) vs. parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest)? Both systems are a part of the overall autonomic nervous system, which controls the function of the heart, liver, intestines, and other internal organs. The sympathetic nervous system activates in times of stress, creating tension and tightness in the body, raising blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. The parasympathetic nervous system counters these effects, slowing the mind, decreasing heart rate, and creating sensations of ease in the body.

Research has identified stress as a major contributor to migraines, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and more extreme issues like heart attacks, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Yoga works to counter these issues by activating the parasympathetic nervous system through meditation, breathwork, and general efforts to focus on the present moment. Even more strenuous yoga techniques (think: sun salutations, advanced poses, and breath retentions), which activate the sympathetic nervous system, actually lead to greater relaxation when followed by relaxing practices. In other words, yoga is the closest thing to an all-natural “chill pill” there is.

3. Provides Additional Support for the Major Systems of the Body

Science has taken a great interest in yoga over the past decade, resulting in proof that it can and will benefit your body on both a surface and cellular level. Studies have shown that yoga helps all systems of the body in one way or another. From increased respiratory function, to improved circulation, lower stress levels, regulated hormones, greater immunity, and overall flexibility and strength, yoga does it all. Dive into greater detail and learn just how yoga affects each system by clicking here.

4. Makes for a Great Workout

Yoga is a great workout — or at least it can be, if that’s what you’re looking for. Step into one flow based yoga class and you’ll see why — the combination of demanding poses such as Chaturanga or downward dog and an emphasis on constant movement will have you sweating in no time at all. These classes can boost your heart rate into the aerobic range, helping you burn calories. But don’t be fooled into thinking you have to sweat in a yoga class to make it worth your while. Studies have shown that even calmer classes improve cardiovascular conditioning, lower your resting heart rate, improve oxygen intake, and increases endurance.

5. Empowers You Take Control of Your Life

Every time you step onto your mat you declare yourself an active participant in your life. Too often we are led to believe that life “just happens” and we’re left to deal with it as it comes. Yoga teaches us that it’s what we do for ourselves that matters and we can take control whenever we want. Think of yoga as a toolbox, giving you everything you need to make the changes you want and need in your life. The more you practice the more you see your intentions and goals begin to manifest themselves. In other words…yoga is a slippery slope to a more fulfilling life. Sign us up for the ride.

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